Wednesday, 28 April 2010

THE birthday card...

There's nothing quite like a reminder of how others see you to bring you quicksmart to reality....This was the birthday card a friend sent to the LAB recently.....after my last post about our Saturday post-shopping ritual, it seems appropriate! I've never made a secret of my love of shopping but still..........s

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Up, up and away....

As this is about the only form of travel by air available at the moment, it seems an appropriate time to tell you about our Saturday afternoon 'habit'!! As soon as the skies above Bath turn from wintery grey to springtime blue and the winter winds abate, the balloons take to the air in force....

They take off (do balloons take off? Or do they lift off? Or float off?.....whatever) from an area close by to the Royal Crescent Hotel....fortuitously this happens at about the same time the LAB has had enough of trailing from shop to shop with me (apparently the most difficult shopper according to various sources so I can't blame him really)...

The usual pattern is that with each shop visited, he progressively moves further and further away from the 'action' (read rails of clothes & changing rooms) and towards the door....until, eventually, he can stand no more and announces that he will meet me at the Royal Crescent....I
agree that this is an excellent idea and that he should order me a G & T, glass of bubbly or whatever the tipple of the day might be and that I shall be 'along in a few minutes'.

About (on average) an hour later I join him at one of these tables in the garden of this magnificent hotel and we enjoy a post-stressful shopping aperitif whilst admiring the balloons by now climbing high above us.
By the time we get home, they are usually en masse above the villages and the trauma of 'the shopping trip' is forgotten as we speculate about whether any of them will descend suddenly into one of the surrounding fields (usually populated by sheep, cows and their associated by-products at this time of year!) This is the bit which has always put me off hot air ballooning...the thought of landing in a muddy field with nothing more between me and the cow pats than a wicker basket....although even this seems preferable at the moment to being stranded at the docks in Spain hoping the Navy will take pity and transport you home in a big grey warship intended for soldiers who can't fly back from Afghanistan, or forking out 2,000 euros in France for a hire car to get to the closest ferry port where you will probably be told in any event that there are no tickets available until a week on Thursday.....
Ah yes, the joys of air travel............s

Sunday, 18 April 2010

A wonderful white weekend (and I'm not referring to the ash...)

I was so surprised and delighted when the LAB arrived home with these: they were wrapped absolutely beautifully in tissue and cellophane with a bubble of water and yards of ribbon! Sorry, I had ripped it off before thinking to capture the wonderful image!

He is very well trained - white only thank you! This was so special because every single stem was absolutely at the peak of perfection, fresh and tightly in bud....white lilies, an assortment of other white beauties whose names I have no idea of and a clutch of creamy white stocks.
Receiving the lilies and stocks together in the same bunch brought back so many lovely memories...when we were 'courting' (do people actually do that any more???) I was living in an apartment in Sydney which had a lobby where visitors could ring the bell and be let in by the occupant of the apartment. Beyond the lobby was a glass door, where you would meet your visitors. We had a very good 'quid pro quo' arrangement when it came to dinner - he would book tables in Sydney's best restaurants and I would reciprocate with home cooking! I thought I had the better part of the bargain but if you asked him, I think he'd disagree (as he was living in a bachelor pad at the time devoid of any domestic paraphernalia).
I can't remember a time he came over when I didn't find him at the glass door with a massive bunch of white lilies in one hand and an expensive bottle of bubbly in the other - sheer out and out spoiling (or was it wooing?? Do they still do that as well???) Anyway, I'm still here....and he still brings the lilies - oh joy!
As for the stocks - when I had my gorgeous girl - twenty years ago next week - it was still considered that a new mother should be rewarded with a week of relaxation after the hard work of labour (not like today where they send you home in time to cook dinner). I spent a week in what seemed at the time to be a cross between a five star hotel and a spa....breakfast, lunch & dinner at civilised times, babies removed to the nursery and visitors strictly rationed. The weather was very similar to the weather we have been having in the UK this week; a sudden onset of the most glorious spring, mild, warm and sunny with blue skies and perfect for a holiday! The husband of one of the other 'inmates' had brought her a huge bunch of cream stocks to celebrate their new arrival and the scent of them wafted through the whole place. Spring had sprung, we all had beautiful new babies and the air was scented with the most delicious perfume I think I had ever experienced.
As I walk past the table in the hall the combination of the two fills me with nostalgia......hope you all had a beautiful weekend, volcanic ash permitting.......s

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Victoria & Albert - Art & Love....

I spent a happy few hours here yesterday: The sun was shining, the sky was blue, London was awash with tourists but no, matter.....I had a wonderful afternoon!

The Queen's Gallery is hosting the first ever exhibition to focus on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's shared enthusiasm for art. There are more than 400 items on display from the Royal Collection including this portrait of Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter and commissioned by her as a secret birthday present for Albert and given to him on his birthday 26th August 1843. She looks quite different to the way we always think of her - hair down in a Rapunzel fashion and almost seductive?
This portrait of Albert was done by Charles Brocky and again, commissioned by Victoria, in 1841. These are the two portraits used on the brochures and advertising posters for the current exhibition.

This painting 'Florinda' by Winterhalter was given by Victoria to Albert again, as a birthday present in 1852. It depicts the beautiful Spanish maiden Florinda and her companions preparing to bathe in the grounds of her castle in Toledo. They are unaware that King Rodrigo is watching them secretly from the bushes (left towards top of painting). The 16th century ballad 'La Cava' tells how Rodrigo's subsequent seduction of Florinda ultimately led to the Arab invasion of Spain. The painting apparently hung between Victoria and Albert's personal writing desks in the sitting room of their house on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House. I love it and it shows Victoria's appreciation of the nude in art, again at odds with our usual image of her in tightly laced up Victorian corseted clothing and as a bit of a curmudgeonly prude.

This photo of the Queen with Prince Albert was taken by Roger Fenton - the couple are in court dress, having just attended a 'Drawingroom' - an occasion at St. James's Palace where people were presented to the Queen.

This dress of silk, lace, gold braid and seed pearls was designed for Victoria by Eugene Lami and is thought to be the most glamorous of the surviving clothes made for her. It was for the Stuart Ball in 1851 and inspired by the Court of Charles II. The couple were apparently fond of costume balls and hosted and attended many. In the coronation year of 1838 she attended the theatre or opera 36 times and gave a whole series of balls at Buckingham Palace, nine of which featured Johann Strauss the elder and his orchestra! By the time she wore this dress, she had already had seven of her nine children....look at the size of the waist!

I learned so much I didn't know and saw a whole new side to has definitely re-awakened my interest in her and the elements of her character which maybe became suffocated by the overwhelming grief which overtook her when her beloved Albert succumbed to typhoid fever at the tender age of 42 on 14th December 1861 at Windsor Castle. I thought I might not bother to go and see this - it looked a bit 'same old, same old' but I'm really glad I did. Go if you get the chance and if not, have a look at it in more detail at

Monday, 12 April 2010

A Blue Sky Birthday...

We are so lucky to have a number of beautiful English 'country house' hotels nearby & to celebrate the LAB's birthday yesterday, decided to visit Lucknam Park, a luxurious property & a member of the Relais & Chateaux group of hotels, for lunch. They have a michelin starred restaurant 'The Park' but unfortunately it's not open on Sundays so we had to 'slum' it in the Brasserie instead!!! The grounds are magnificent - how about this garden room, complete with wicker furniture and a working fireplace?

The main part of the building is traditional:

Glorious gardens, bursting into life:

Statuary aplenty:

Sweeping driveway:

Attached to the brasserie (where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of local pork, sorry no photo, I was ravenous by the time it arrived and demolished it before even thinking to record the food!) is the Spa...a place of tranquil luxury where I wouldn't mind spending a day or can buy a membership which enables you to use the 'facilities' including the gym, pool, steam room etc. for a mere 2,475 GBP a year (excluding treatments!). After your spa session, you can have your hair done by the resident (very popular, book 6 weeks ahead) hairdresser and meet a friend for lunch in the Brasserie - or book in at the equestrian centre for an afternoon of riding! What a gorgeous place....check it out at

Friday, 9 April 2010

Oh, to be in England now that April's there....and a little bit of magic...

One thing I could always rely on to bring about a sense of melancholy and sadness when I was living in Australia at this time of year was reading Robert Browning's

'Home Thoughts from Abroad'
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

And after April, when May follows,
And all the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray's edge -
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
Far brighter than this gaudy melon flower!
I had started to think I must have taken leave of my senses to want to return to what has been a cold, damp grey and generally miserable place for what seems like the last six months, that maybe I had been wishing for something which didn't really exist, just in my imagination and in the writings of Browning et al. I thought that I must have had my rose coloured glasses on whenever we came over here for a visit and it had all been a terrible mistake.....then at the weekend, something magical happened....
The temperature was noticeably higher and along with the daffodils and hyacinths in the garden pink blossom started to appear on the plum tree, the trees lost their stark silhouette, softened by tiny pale green leaves bursting from their buds..
On Wednesday I did my 'pilgrimage' to the hairdresser in Hampshire and took the route I usually do but thought I might try a different 'back' I drove through tiny country lines dotted with bright yellow daffodils and marvelled at how different the landscape looked to the last time I was there, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. I stopped the car, opposite a green field sloping away from me upwards to dense forest and saw two beautiful deer in the evening sun as birds sang from, it seemed, every surrounding tree. I grabbed my ever-present camera and.....nothing! Flat as a pancake - so, this is the nearest I could find to the actual scene....

Since then, there have been two absolutely glorious days and I cannot think of anywhere in the world I would rather be on days like these! My neighbour is busy with several ewes all about to lamb and I watch the ones already born leaping around in her orchard opposite my window....
Phew.....just in time.....I was seriously starting to think about getting some shipping estimates...
But, for now, April is here, in England and I am happy and grateful to be part of such a magical time.

Wherever you are and whatever you're doing this weekend I hope it's magical too.........s

Monday, 5 April 2010

Busy, busy....

I've been a busy, busy Easter bunny & have been missing out on what you've all been up to whilst we temporarily turned the M.H into a 'B & B' over the last two weeks!!!

We waved off the last of a long line of visiting children, friends of children, old friends, new friends & neighbours on Saturday and the last day or so has passed in a chocolate induced daze!

Looking forward to catching up with all your news - hope you all had the most wonderful Easter weekend...the U.K is looking yellow - daffodils with their sunny heads blowing in the wind and the ground covered with primroses...hello Spring! Now, please excuse me whilst I go for a long lie down....wake me up when it's gin & tonic time.........s